Sam Bennett wraps up a promising week at Paris-Nice

Irish rider now turns his focus to the Milan-San Remo race next weekend

Team Deceuninck rider Ireland’s Sam Bennett wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Team Deceuninck rider Ireland’s Sam Bennett wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

 

One day in yellow, several more in green, two stage wins and a close chase for a third and that’s not all Sam Bennett will take from the 79th edition of Paris-Nice.

It was also Bennett’s first finish from four Paris-Nice starts – the perils of any multi-stage tour again demonstrated when Primoz Roglic lost his seemingly unassailable lead on the already shortened 92.7km final stage from Le Plan-du-Var to Levens after twice crashing on the twisty descents around the Cote d’Azur.

Indeed Roglic nearly fell for a third time, eventually finishing 56th on the stage, three minutes and eight seconds down, which was more than enough time for defending champion Max Schachmann from Germany to take the overall win by 19 seconds: the only consolation for Roglic, both sides of his shorts ripped apart as evidence of his double mishap (first at 36km, then with 25km to go) was holding on to the green jersey as winner of the points classification, with 57 points to Bennett’s 36 in second.

Before the stage start, it seemed the only question for the Slovenian rider - already 52 seconds in front - was whether he could match Sean Kelly’s feat of 1982, the last rider to win four stages plus the race outright: Roglic got three stage wins alright, before dropping right back to 15th overall on the last stage, with no teammates left to help the Jumbo-Visma rider ending up 2:16 behind Schachmann of Bora-Hansgrohe.

For Bennett, who like Saturday used the hilly terrain of the final stage for some further “strength and conditioning”, the day went a lot smoother, and he finished strongly again, 38th on the day, in the group one minute and 38 seconds down on the stage winner Magnus Cort of EF Education-Nippo, the 28 year-old Danish rider the best of the sprint up the last 5km uphill.

Bennett is well used to riding a race within a race, and clearly had three in mind on the closing stages - the priority now being next Saturday’s Milan-San Remo. With two stage wins already, he’d conceding he was no longer chasing the green jersey outright when most of the remaining sprint points were on climbs, and rode particularly “deep” over Saturday’s mountainous 120km Stage 7 towards the ski resort of La Colmiane, Bennett part of a 13-man breakaway, riders tackling the Côte de Gilette from the gun, with his Deceuninck-QuickStep team mate Mattia Cattaneo also in the group.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I’m not used to being in that situation,” Bennett said of his position leading the breakaway towards the final climb, though partly in jest: he clearly knew this was preparation for Saturday’s Milan-San Remo.

Bennett has made no secret of his desire to add that to his list of wins. At 298 km, the longest professional one-day race in modern cycling, it includes the famous Poggio climb with some 10km to go, before a downhill and then flat finish.

“Yeah, it’s been good training,” said Bennett. “But also (in the breakaway) I wanted to do a good ride for Cattaneo and get him as far as possible into the climb, ahead of the peloton, once we were there. So I just tried to do my best for him, it’s not often I can give back to the guys, and so when I had the opportunity, I went deep.

“Yeah, the last few days I’d a little of a free card. And I wanted to go really deep, find some legs for the next few weeks. It’s not often I can give back to the guys, so when I have the opportunity, I’m happy to do it, so I just tried to get us as far as possible on the last climb. I felt good and decided to go really deep in order to strengthen my condition and find my legs for the coming weeks, and at the end of the day, I think it was a pretty useful test. I’m quite content with how things went.”

Bennett’s now five stage wins in Paris-Nice equals Stephen Roche, his next target being the Milan-San Remo title only ever won by one Irish rider before: Kelly in 1986 and 1992.

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